Before your body is cold, someone will ask how much you are worth.

Over half the working population globally does not have a Will in place; over 60% of these are because they have not considered the consequences of dying without a Will. This article explains things that can happen if you die without a will.

So, to understand how a couple of hours of your time will provide you peace of mind, and your loved ones, here is what will happen when you die:-

1. Your loved ones will want to know your estate value when you die.

Your loved ones still need to know your asset value, even if you have a will. It doesn’t mean the asking party didn’t love you. It may just mean that an unexpected inheritance is seen as a sudden windfall, a solution to a pressing money problem, a relief that the bill collectors will finally stop calling.

But the asker will nevertheless appear to be tone-deaf with the timing of the question. We all assume that everyone should mourn the way we regret, but we all grieve differently.

If you had a Will and everybody knew what share of your estate was theirs to expect, the question might feel less offensive. Without a Will, the process will stretch out and be more costly.

Laws about dying without a Will (intestate in legal terms) vary by country. In some countries, a surviving spouse can inherit everything (even if this is the third marriage and they were only together briefly). In other countries, the surviving spouse will only get one-third to one-half the value of the estate, with the rest going to the deceased’s parents. If the parents are dead, that portion is split among the deceased’s siblings — yes, including the brother he hasn’t spoken to in 30 years and was last known to be living in Timbuktu. The estate will have to spend money to find said brother (or prove him dead) to distribute his share of the estate. 

A Will stops all that from happening.

2. Children, spouses and ex-spouses, and siblings will fight. And fight. And fight.

Death does not always bring out the best in people. Interestingly, the prospect of pending death is an occasion to mend fences. But once the death occurs, all bets are off, and the gloves come on.

This is more likely to happen in families where the heirs have different socio-economic statuses. The son, who can’t hold a job, wants to know why his rich older brother needs more money yet. The rich older brother thinks he should manage the unemployed brother’s share of the estate. And so on. But the decision shouldn’t be theirs; it’s yours.

A Will is your way to help avoid this dispute. It’s your money, and you can give whatever amounts you want to whomever you want – end of the story.

3. Your heirs will fight for a long time, and it will be stupidly expensive.

Because you weren’t specific about your wishes, your heirs are free to disagree ad nauseam. Your heirs will have conflicting self-interests. While a wealthy inheritor can afford to hold on to the house, his less privileged counterpart wants a fast sale for immediate cash.

Your Will is your chance to end the argument before it starts.

When a Will has gone through probate, the deceased’s property and assets are inventoried and appraised. Then, after debts and taxes have been paid, the remaining assets are distributed among the chosen heirs. If there is no Will, the government directs the property distribution.

Probate involves paperwork and court appearances by lawyers, who charge fees paid by the estate — money that would otherwise go to the people who inherit the deceased person’s property. When you draw up your Will, consider ways to avoid probate also. In many countries, probate is not especially expensive or complicated. But the fights over who will administer your estate and be in charge of distributing your assets most certainly are. Plus, they can create permanent rifts in the family. You can set that all straight with a will that names an Executor of the estate.

4. Sentimentality invariably will clash with Practicality.

Take the matter of the three-carat diamond engagement ring inherited in your family for several generations; its value is $150,000. Should that be given to your only daughter, so the chattels remain in the family if she divorces? Or should it be assigned to one of your sons’ wives with the risk that since it was a gift to her, she would get to keep it in a divorce?

It gets even dicier. If you give a ring to your daughter, do you reduce her share of the estate by $150,000? What if she’d rather have the money than the ring? Is she allowed to sell it? Inheritances needn’t be equal in a will, and a choice permits you to pull specific items out of the real estate and give them to whoever you wish. Setting terms, however, isn’t that simple. While you can include things like “This is for George, if and when he goes to college,” forbidding your daughter from selling the diamond ring won’t fly since you really can’t police things from the grave, and you can’t give someone something, then tell them what to do with it.

To some, the ring is priceless. To others, it most certainly has a price.

Leaving specific instructions on selling or preserving real property will eliminate many of the disputes that could arise. And again, you can only do this in a Will.

Families have fought over old vinyl record collections, who gets to keep the family photo albums and the partially restored old car that Dad spent hours working. It still doesn’t run, but at least one relative has already been on eBay to see what similar models are fetching.

5. Nobody can read your mortal mind, leading to people calling others “liars.”

Did you promise your niece that you would help her pay for her son’s college education? And only you and she know that, and now you are dead.

Nobody else in the family knows that you’ve been quietly footing the bill for your granddaughter’s fancy private school. It’s none of their business when you are alive, but it becomes their business when you are dead.

Need more? You have one adult child who has been your primary caregiver, who left the paid workforce to care for you and, doing so, will have a reduced pension herself and may never be able to find another job that pays her as well as the one she left. You want her to have more of your estate to help her get her life back. Well, if that was your intention, none of your heirs will know about it without a Will. A few of them may even accuse her of skimming off the estate. Did she use your money to pay for the big-screen TV in your room and now thinks it’s hers?

It can get ugly. A Will makes your intentions crystal clear. Your heirs may not like all your decisions, but at least they won’t hate one another for making them.

6. Your pets may not get the care they deserve or that you intended for them.

You cannot leave money or property to your pet. You can establish a trust and fund it. It requires you to find someone who agrees to care for your pet. Shelters are filled with pets whose owners died, leaving them without a place pre-arranged to live.

While we’re at it, if you have minor children in your care, you need a Will to establish their custody. And someone trustworthy to look after your estate for them should both parents die.

7. You may not get the kind of funeral you want.

So you wanted a happy party where friends gather and share funny stories about you? No somber memorials for you, right? In that case, it’s best to clearly state what you want in both a will and a separate letter (of wishes). Make sure that these can be found quickly upon your death. 

A Will can speed up the time for distribution, stop family feuds, and reduce estate taxes in certain countries.

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